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THE ARMY AND THE GOVERNMENT'S
TOWARDS the close of the Session of 1897, the Government allowed it to become known that a certain amount of public support, or even of public pressure, would not be unacceptable to them before entering upon the work of Army Reform, which they had then begun to take under consideration. It cannot be said that in this matter the Government have been disappointed, or that public opinion has failed to furnish them with the impetus which they desired to receive. The whole question of the condition of the Army has been discussed with thoroughness, and from many differents points of view. On some points there has been agreement, and on others differences still remain. But as far as the available evidence can be trusted, there is no class and no party which has remained indifferent to the appeal which has been made to it, or which has refused to admit that a change of some kind in the organisation of our Army is necessary and desirable.
Those who are acquainted with the history of popular movements in this country are aware that the existence of a strong public opinion is essential to the success of any Government which is about to undertake any serious project of reform. It is not always easy to create and give expression to this opinion, but when it has been created and expressed, it is of the greatest possible value to the Minister who knows how to make use of it. There are probably few matters upon which it is harder to create and maintain general public interest than those which concern the Army. Popular sentiment has never attached itself to the Army to the same degree and in the same way as to the Navy. The value of the Navy is apparent to all sections of the community, and the services which it has rendered have been of a character very easily understood and appreciated. The Army, represented at home by its least efficient and least imposing detachments, has suffered somewhat in the popular estimation from the fact that it is, and must always be, a second line of defence only. It has suffered far more from the humiliations which have been imposed upon it by those who were
charged with its administration. No tradition is more deeply rooted in the minds of the poorer classes in all parts of the United Kingdom, than that which represents enlistment as the last step on the downward career of a young man. For years past many influences have been at work to combat this unhappy misconception, and much progress has been made towards the attainment of a healthier and more rational state of opinion, but the old prejudice exists, and has to be taken into account. Lastly, it cannot be disputed that the administration of the Army for nearly a century past has not been of a kind to inspire confidence or to create enthusiasm.
All these circumstances have undoubtedly combined to render the public mind apathetic with regard to Army matters. It has not been easy to excite the interest, or to procure the goodwill, of the public at large. Without, however, desiring to exaggerate the value and effect of such a public controversy as has recently taken place, it may fairly be claimed that at the present moment the public mind is more alert with regard to Army questions than it has been for many years past, that public interest has been aroused, and that, coupled with the conviction that energetic reform is required, there is a general disposition to accede to any well-judged proposals which may be made in the interests of efficiency. Under these circumstances, it is not strange that those who are most anxious to see the Army strengthened and made efficient should desire to see the fullest use made of the favourable opportunity which has presented itself, or rather which has been created, by the expenditure of a considerable amount of effort. It is not easy in a matter of this kind to get up steam' twice. Unluckily, no one knows this better than the Anti-Reform party at the War Office. If once they can tide over the present Session, if by conceding a very little they can divert attack from the venerable institutions, the inefficiency of which they have so long and so fully demonstrated, and the continuance of which they so ardently desire, they will have gained their point, and they know it. Another ten or twenty years may go by before a War Minister has such a chance as that which is now offered to Lord Lansdowne. To possess at the same time the goodwill of both parties, the acquiescence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, an intelligent appreciation on the part of the public of the danger to be guarded against, to have a sympathetic House of Commons and a corps of officers grateful for the slightest concession to their views, is a combination so fortunate that no Minister has a right to reckon upon its early recurrence. It is not too much to say that in the present Session of Parliament the fate of the British Army for twenty years to come will be settled. What is left undone this year will not be accomplished next year or the year after. In one contingency alone, a contingency not pleasant to contemplate, the work to be done this Session may, if left imperfect, be rapidly supplemented. We have unluckily little guarantee that the next twenty years will be years of profound peace or prolonged good fortune for this country. The signs of the times are numerous, the omens are not propitious, and everywhere the hand of the political weather-glass seems to point to 'Stormy.' It may be that the sharp lesson of defeat will once more draw public attention to the condition of the Army and the performances of the War Office. But the cost of such a rough lesson may be incalculable; and to many who have taken pains to acquaint themselves with the condition of the Army under our present régime, it will seem nothing short of a calamity if the Secretary of State for War, with the unrivalled opportunity which he possesses, is content to let the year pass without having done anything more than tinker and patch after the fashion of so many of his less fortunate predecessors.
THE POLICY OF
THOROUGH' V. THE POLICY OF TINKERING
There are some members of the House of Commons, and some members of the general public, who on general grounds are opposed to everything like sweeping reforms or changes on a large scale. Following what they no doubt honestly believe to be the counsels of prudence, they say, 'Whatever you do, do not ask too much. Much may be needed, but to obtain anything you must ask for a little only. Step by step, compromise here, the abandonment of a reasonable demand there, the postponement of an entire series of obvious and pressing reforms, such are the methods which constitute a truly wise and diplomatic procedure.' Those who argue thus are entitled to all the credit which is due to sincerity, but they are not entitled to be regarded as competent students of political problems, or as trustworthy guides in a question such as that now before us. What is the obvious, certain, uncontested lesson taught by the events of the last twenty years, writ large upon the face of the Statute Book, forced home to the knowledge of everyone who hopes to see a reform accomplished and an end achieved ? It is this. Avoid small reforms as you would the plague ; if you have a good case, state it in full; abate nothing: go straight to the public, show them what is wanted, convince them of the need, and they will give you what the situation requires, or, rather, they will compel their servants in the Cabinet to give it.
For years and years protests had been made with regard to the insufficiency of the Navy; the organisation of the dockyards had been criticised ; doubts had been thrown upon the value of our artillery. Many good men had broken their hearts over little reforms and points which, though important in themselves, were matters of detail only. At last, by a happy conjunction of causes, those who wished well to the Navy were led to change their method of attack. They were no longer content to say that a particular ship was too long on the stocks; that a particular form of rifling or loading our guns was unsatisfactory; that the Squadron on a particular station was a ship or two short. They simply blurted out the whole truth-they said :
The Navy is utterly insufficient for the work it has to do; the number of ships must be doubled; the number of men must be doubled ; the entire organisation of the dockyards needs to be changed; our whole system of artillery is wrong from top to bottom, not only are we weak on one or two stations, we are weak on every foreigo station, and at home also. The speeches in which successive First Lords have told Parliament that everything was going well, and that nothing more was required, bave all been untrue, they are entitled to no credit, they are not worthy of a moment's consideration, and they must be absolutely disregarded if the safety of the country is to be assured.
What was the result of this sweeping kind of criticism ? Did it fail because too much was asked for? At first, of course, there was an outery from the Laodicean gentlemen, who said then, as they say now, 'Do not speak so loud ; do not tell the whole truth. Ask for more buttons on a boatswain's coat this year, try and wheedle another ship out of the Admiralty next year, and then perhaps some other year Ministers will very kindly think about the question of guns or give favourable attention to the matter of the dockyards.' Luckily the Laodicean gentlemen bleated in vain. There were men in Parliament who had the courage of their opinions; the country took its own view of the situation, and reluctant Ministers found themselves compelled to do that which, six months before, they had refused to do and which they had declared to be absolutely futile and unnecessary.
It is scarcely necessary to ask whether the policy of 'thorough' or the policy of tinkering succeeded best. In the last fifteen years those who have followed, as the present writer has followed, the fortunes of the Navy, have seen an absolute transformation both of body and spirit. The number of effective ships has been doubled, so has the number of men. The dockyards have been reformed from top to bottom, and the whole system which had so long been defended has been swept out of existence, to the enormous advantage of the nation. Our artillery, which, like many other good things of that kind, we owed to the War Office, has been condemned as being fifteen years behind that of any other Power, and has been replaced by an ample provision of modern and effective guns. At home and abroad our squadrons are efficient and respected. The Admiralty, refreshed almost every year by new blood, manned by officers fresh from service with the fleet and possessing the confidence of those under their authority, is trusted by the people of
the United Kingdom as few public departments have been trusted. And yet, with all these facts staring us in the face, there are those who would have us believe that both prudence and precedent combine to condemn thorough reform and large measures.
Enough has been said to show that the question of Army Reform may with advantage be discussed on its merits, and that, if it appear on examination that large changes are necessary, there is no valid reason why these changes should not be made. And in this connection one other point remains to be noticed. It is the practice to speak of our existing Army organisation as of something venerable from age and consecrated by long usage. As a matter of fact it is nothing of the kind. It is a revolutionary system which was introduced less than thirty years ago, and which has been modified, departed from, and added to in many directions during its brief period of existence. Of the principal officers who now defend it, scarcely one has ever served in a battalion organised in accordance with the system. The whole thing has been an experiment, and it is an experiment which, by universal admission, has largely failed. The argument therefore which is sometimes put forward, to the effect that any interference with the existing arrangements is a disturbance of the fundamental principles of the British Army, is an absurdity.
THE WAR OFFICE, ITS PROMISES AND ITS PERFORMANCES
With this preface, we may now pass on to consider what are the concessions which have been made by the Secretary of State for War, and what are the points upon which he is still forbidden by his advisers to make any change for the better. That the public and the rmy are greatly indebted to Lord Lansdowne for the promises he has given, is beyond question. But the circumstance that a feeling of gratitude is, entertained and has found frequent expression is in itself a singular commentary upon the War Office régime. Lord Lansdowne has undertaken to pay the soldier what for years has been promised him in the Queen's name, but which he has notoriously never received. He has promised to abandon the plan of transforming good and willing soldiers into paupers by turning them out of the Army and refusing them re-admission, save on payment of an impossible fine. Having at length learnt that the official term of service was so oppressive and so detrimental to the interests of the men that a sufficient quantity of recruits could not be obtained for the service of the country, he is going to vary the terms of service so as to give the soldier a fair chance of making a career for himself. He is going to give a larger amount of Government employment than hitherto to discharged soldiers of good character. The last fad in the way of Artillery organisation, having